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The Washington Commanders were one of the worst teams in the NFL a year ago. That’s a big reason the franchise underwent a major rebuild in the offseason, bringing in a new general manager, head coach and franchise quarterback. A potential resurgence in the NFC East starts with Jayden Daniels, but he’ll need the rest of his team to rise to the challenge if the Commanders want to make a splash in 2024.

It all starts with a defense that ranked last in the league last season after allowing an average of 388.9 yards and 30.5 points per game. No other team gave up more than 26.8 points per game.

READ MORE: Washington Commanders aren’t the only NFC East Division team undergoing massive changes

Two of the three highest-paid players on Washington’s roster are defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. The two defensive linemen are each set to make over $21 million this season. The problem? Both fell short of their expectations in 2023. Payne recorded a career-low 53 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks, while Allen totaled 53 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, his lowest production since his rookie season.

The Commanders will need more from their middle-of-the-field defense this year, and that’s exactly what NFL.com’s Eric Edholm is predicting for at least one member of the duo, as he expects Payne to bounce back under the guidance of head coach Dan Quinn.

“Payne didn’t have a bad season in 2023, mind you, but it was clear how much tougher life was for him and Allen after Montez Sweat and Chase Young were both traded on a franchise-changing day last Halloween,” Edhold wrote. “Even after that, Payne showed what he can do, collecting three of his four sacks, including two in a season-ending loss to the Rams.”

“Dan Quinn is a former DL coach who knows how to create pressure with his fronts. The Cowboys have attacked from all directions in recent years, and I expect Quinn’s commanders to do the same, even with less talent,” Edholm continued. “The pass rush may need to be a team effort and less star-driven than it was with Quinn in Dallas or previously with Sweat and Young in Washington. But don’t overlook some of the lesser-known edge rushers Washington brought in this offseason.”

Payne’s overall numbers dropped last season, when he posted a career-worst defensive grade of 61.2, according to PFF. It’s worth noting that seven of his tackles for loss and three of his sacks came after Washington traded Chase Young and Montez Sweat, which provides some optimism that he can continue to move in the right direction. At the same time, he could very well be fighting for his job as Payne enters the second year of a four-year, $90 million contract extension he signed last March.

“Payne has a lot at stake in 2024,” Edhold wrote. “He’s playing with a salary cap hit of more than $21 million this season, and that number rises to more than $26 million and $28 million over the next two years, respectively. Even if Jayden Daniels’ salary as a rookie QB makes the accounting a lot easier, Payne and Allen could be playing for their jobs in Washington.”

“Payne is two years younger than Allen and has 11.5 sacks a season after his Pro Bowl season, so he could have a better chance to shine in 2024 and remain a key part of Washington’s defense going forward,” Edhold continued.

It’s been less than two years since Payne was named to the Pro Bowl after totaling 18 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, which are career-highs, in 2022. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him rebound under a new coaching staff, as the talented defensive player is in the midst of his prime.

A big reason for Quinn’s hiring was his success in building a consistently strong Dallas Cowboys defense. Quinn will look to do the same while coaching one of his former employer’s biggest rivals.

READ MORE: Washington Commanders safety ‘learned a lot’ during offseason training program

Stay at CommanderGameday and that Commanders in the crosshairs Podcast for further coverage of the Washington Commanders during the 2024 season.

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